Alabama freshman quarterback Blake Barnett speaks to the media during an NCAA college football national signing day press conference, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson
February 05, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Nick Saban says he wouldn't hesitate to start a freshman quarterback if he's Alabama's best option, same as any other position.

Highly touted signee Blake Barnett has seven months to try to make his case as either the starter or the backup, beginning with spring practice. Age alone won't keep him from the mix.

''If he's the best player, why would we not play him?'' Saban said on Wednesday. ''That's like saying a guy is from California so we should not play him because he's from California. We wouldn't have recruited him. If the guy's the best player, we're going to play him. Just like Julio Jones was the best player when he was a wide receiver as a freshman and we played him. Amari Cooper was. Trent Richardson was.

''If a guy's ready to play and he's the best player that means he's done something to deserve the right to play.''

Barnett faces a big challenge competing against a sizable group of returning quarterbacks that includes Jake Coker, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Alec Morris. Cornwell also enrolled early last year but was recovering from knee surgery.

Coker presumably is the favorite after losing a battle with Blake Sims for the starting job last season following his transfer from Florida State. None of the others have attempted a pass in college, which does put Barnett on more of a level playing field at least in the bid to become No. 2.

He and 2010 signee Phillip Sims are the two highest rated quarterbacks Saban has landed at Alabama. Sims later transferred to Virginia.

Alabama hasn't started a true freshman at quarterback, though Harry Gilmer was the primary ball-handler, rusher and passer as left halfback in the Notre Dame box formation in 1944.

Barnett, who is from Corona, California, enrolled in January and can go through spring practice under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder was a consensus five-star prospect who was rated the nation's top pocket passer by ESPN.com and the best dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com.

Barnett is trying to get ready for spring and trying not to dwell on his spot on the depth chart down the road.

''My main goal is to compete for a spot, but right now that's big picture things,'' Barnett said. ''The small picture I'm focusing on right now is to get the playbook down and take it step by step. I think that's a while away from here. I don't want to say anything, make any statements right now.''

Like Blake Sims, Barnett considers himself a mobile pass-first quarterback.

''I consider myself as a pocket passer with the ability to extend the play,'' he said. ''I think that's the biggest thing that makes me stand out, ability to extend the play. I don't want to be categorized as a dual threat, specifically running quarterback, but I like to think that I can take advantage - pick apart a defense throwing the ball and if need be running the ball.''

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